19 February 2013

Studio One Raw Notes

Evening Session

Raw notes from the Studio One Symposium 2013, held at Wurster Hall, College of Environmental Design (CED) on 1-2 February 2013. Studio One is a year-long interdisciplinary, experimental, and post-professional (i.e., post-M.Arch.) design studio. The theme, set out by Ronald Rael, who runs the studio and introduced the program, is the necessary dialogue of craft and technology in design.

Meejin Yoon (Boston architect in practice on her own and with her partner, Eric Höweler; also teaches at MIT). Her work, which ranges in scale from a pop-up library to the linking up of a megalopolis, is remarkable for its willingness to explore and equally to simplify and make workable what could otherwise appear complex and impractical - without losing anything in the process.  Yoon is more interested and directly engaged in craft - including the actual making as well as guiding that process - than many architects.  Some notes: Yoon: "Make a work so clear you can't screw it up." A project she did called "Shareway," a "movement commons" (my phrase) linking up the BosWash corridor, sparked the quote, "Freedom from ownership" (because you don't need to own a car, bike, etc.) She showed a Japanese clothing pattern, cited by Bernard Rudofsky, which I'd like to post, but can't find - an example of their characteristic economy of means, applied in two and three dimensions. Respondent (Nicholas de Monchaux, who teaches at the CED): quotes Walter Benjamin and cites the religious philosopher James Carse, author of Finite and Infinite Games. He refers to a Benjamin essay on "the nature of a work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction." Another quote: "Architecture is only ever experienced in a state of distraction." James Carse, he said, pointed past our zero-sum games, which we seem to be losing, toward something more open-ended, like play. (Carse’s book is called Finite & Infinite Games.) 

Morning Session

Mike Silver (Pamphlet Architecture #19 author, digital fabricator and robotics, fellow at Ball State University and with Rafael Vinoly): The aerospace industry is the go-to source on composites, which are strong in one direction (the direction of the fibers), weak in the other. Working with plane manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft and Vinoly, he patented a new high-strength, long-span composite truss. His interest is in developing low-cost tooling and then mass-customizing it, so composite components can be cost-competitive with steel and concrete. He's also interested in the next-gen robotics discourse. He cited a critique of robotics that Bill Gates wrote for Scientific American, bemoaning the field's primitive state. He's interested in robots' transfer to domestic space and their role in lifestyle transformation relative to town planning. This led to ABRAMS - automated building moving machines, a response to the US RV community, which has the same number of people as Chicago. Could robots move them around? He showed a prototype of one. He referenced a real-time air-quality model in Albuquerque and Bill Dietz's related work on artificial intelligence at the University of Tennessee. Respondent (Michael Swain, inventor, designer, and artist): The first use of robot was in Karel Capek's 1921 play RUR, playing on the word robota, "labor you're forced to give back" or "forced drudgery." His brother Joseph Capek coined the word in 1908. RUR is published by Penguin. 

Jimenez Lai (graduate of the University of Toronto, assistant professor, University of Illinois, Chicago, author of the graphic novel, Citizens of No Place, published by Princeton Architectural Press, principal of Bureau Spectacular): Felt there's a misunderstanding of "experimental," "paper," or "avant-garde" architecture. Question for him is, "How do I go about being not normal?" Architectural effects can't be translated and aren't scalable, so he explores them in other realities such as spaceships - for example, a kind of Noah's Ark in space, in which he showed gravity being turned on and off (as an exercise) and two men arguing for the relative advantages of plan and section. (The section advocate argues that when cities are extruded plans, they're less interesting than the forms that result from sectional analyses.) This led to a work, "White Elephant," that's hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and can tumble like a jack. It's also a "third object" that's almost too big for the room it occupies - not furniture, but not architecture, either. He calls it "super-furniture." Another vignette from Citizens of No Place has a developer proposing that a young man live in the penthouse of a tower, rising from the entirety of Central Park, that goes to the limit of atmosphere (7.6 miles) and can house 87 million people. The penthouse is above the limit. Like the young man on his return, Lai is interested in projects that serve as "obsession accelerators" - "I hope one day, when architecture winks back at me, that I made a nice journey." Respondent (Irene Cheng of Cheng & Snyder, San Francisco; an historian of utopias who teaches at CCA): Utopias like Corbusier's Radiant City were supplanted in 1978 by Colin Rowe's Collage City, and we've entered an anti-utopian time, with utopia a code word today for socialism. Like Lai, Frederic Jameson explores utopias through the medium of literary science fiction, the traits of which, appearing in Lai's work, include: (1) elements of the fantastic (Lai isn't techno-fetishistic, however; he uses technology as a literary device); (2) highly conventional; (3) self-circling/self-referential, (4) critical (an archeologist from 10,000 years in the future, since to pose a world of the future is also to comment on the present world); (5) have an indeterminate, ambivalent quality, so you don't know if it's freedom or imprisonment. 

Afternoon Session

Andrew Kudless (his firm, Matsys, is based in Oakland; teaches at CCA): Doing projects provides retroactive guidance. "It's the things I do wrong that drive the next project." Topics: (1) craftsmanship, (2) geometric theory, (3) parametric thinking, (4) intensive prototyping, (5) synthetic processes. Craftsmanship is rigorous play: the rules of the game. Geometric theory is a forgotten topic. Parametric thinking has informed his own thinking, removed from tools. His work is a continuum - projects flow into each other. Intensive prototyping: "get something out of the computer." Synthetic processes: honeycomb methodologies, done at the AA in London (Darcy Thompson). An algorithm = an updated process. Parametric thinking = working with parameters, literally. "Voronoi morphologies": Frei Otto: (1) not confined to a fixed topology, (2) think of each cell as a brick. Worked with water balloons for fun. Chrysalis III, Paris: for a Centre Pompidou department, Industrial Perspectives, focused not on things with immediate use, but on the future of making. "My work produces complexity when out of the computer." P-Wall, Columbus, Ohio: Drew on Otto, Candelas, Isler - not a school, but working independently - form, material, and performance considered rigorously. Miguel Fisac (1913-2006) also an example: a church wall using heart and cross motifs. Instead of starting with a preconceived idea about the form, letting the making make the form. Learned through trial and error that he could drape mylar between supports 2" to 8" apart. Shorter or longer, it would fail. (A human is also an elastic skin with a liquid interior.) He didn't like the horizontal span of the Columbus piece. New concrete walls are too acidic for plants to grow. A Spanish materials engineer has developed a more neutral PH concrete that will accept plants right away. First installation revealed major problems: pieces weighed too much, got dirty easily, and showed a horizontal seam. Natural Discourses Initiative (?): printed out in concrete. Roku Wall. Shells: EDES, Portland, OR. Brief from a choreographer/dancer to build an environment: (1) wants to dance in an iceberg, (2) iceberg becomes an airplane, (3) $500 budget. Ant Farm's Clean Air Pad Inflatable Cookbook (available as a DVD) involved $13 in materials. The environment combines iciness with the look of a plane fuselage. (Mentions Sol Le Wit re: improving the look, I believe. See photo below of the completed project..) Catalyst Catenary, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis,"Catalyst Week": designers work for four days, then review. Shells only support themselves when fully erected Heinz Isler: experiments with shells. Shellslow Pavilion, Hong Kong. Anything under three meters doesn't require engineering, he was told. Not true. Respondent (Paz Gutierrez, CED Professor): Relationship of production - how is it materialized through craft? Unpredictability of materials under certain conditions. Revolutionizing materials and craft (?) = Matsys. P-Wall is an example. Finding ways that force growth, allows for the qualities - "negotiation of forces," not defining the script as production. 

Scott Robertson (industrial designer involved in developing concept art for games and films, and also in car and product design; his talk focused on techniques that allow rapid prototyping or visualization): Uses Modo for 3d modeling, foundation of drawing and painting. Uses Vue, which allows him to mirror an image. (Shows how this technique can be used to turn a car into a spaceship - see lower image). Shows how he can layer an image sample, like the front of truck, onto a 3d model of a man to give him a Samurai like suit of armor.) These techniques reverse the usual process: instead of simple to complex, they start with complex and simplify. Mentions a free program (al.chemy.org) - brush, map, render. (Alchemy is an open drawing program.) Mentions Photo Booth and shows the use of its effects, like pinching, to create "alien" heads. Mentions zoom blur ("blurred streaks and lines," per Google) and other techniques. Makes the point that generating new forms quickly and randomly (by sampling objects that don't relate to them, for example) can disrupt the preconceptions of, for example, car designers, who tend through repetitive drawing arrive at the same limited set of forms. Shows how he quickly models a range of shoes using texture binding in Modo. Has a blog (drawthrough.blogpost.com) from which his other sites are linked. Respondent: (Randolph Ruiz, teaches at CCA, founder of AAArchitecture): Asked himself, how does this apply to architecture? Thinking about science fiction, modernism, the urge to reinvent, hacking: in the 1960s, it was Sid Mead (see below) and Archigram; more recently, it's Lebbeus Woods and Neil Denari. Drawing used to be central to architecture. Now it's CAD, not hands. Enter the machine: engineers defined the material culture of the modern era. (Are we cuddling up to the machine?) Automobiles are transcendent, but buildings are not. Macbook (as object): what can be written that's worthy of it? Philip K. Dick: specious realities. We have to ask what's real. Carbon: prefer drawing to talking.

Dwayne Oyler (Oyler Wu Collaborative, Los Angeles, with Jenny Wu): Will talk about work in broad cross-section: how and why. Moved in LA in 2004. Changed his/their outlook to practice. Working with problems over a long period of time. "Muscle memory" - is it good or bad? (Refers to comment by Scott Robertson in his presentation, in reference to car designers getting in a visual rut.) Frei Otto, Enrique Morales, Eero Saarinen, and Gaudi: recognize nuanced architectural effects that come out of their work, how people experienced it, etc. - evident in their work. Focus: line. Evident in their work. Immersing in line, play of light and shadow, and (Jenny Wu) line as a spatial construct. Sometimes the smallest detail - understanding one detail makes the drawing seem convincing. Working within the architectural tradition of projection. (Shows a staircase): line as structural idea (stair is not efficient) [Like the stairs in Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase."] People wanted to touch the work, like an instrument. Line has material behaviors. Use physical models to test simulations. Used to talk about fabrications. On the one hand, don't care about it, except that the work is built incredibly well. As we're building work, there's an intimate relationship that makes the work better - living with the material. So, I do care about craft. Not the "making it" per se, but the intimacy of the relationship. Keep that with bigger projects, too. Build jigs to build the pieces. Bent tubes. Dwell on Design - early piece: line in space, not structural. Work at larger scale in the last 2-3 years changed the way we thought about line. Sci-Arc graduation pavilion: phase 2 involved turning the audience around. Taipei Towers: the city presents a lot of variation, so wanted to capture a variety of textures. [Discussed how a new project devolved into a smaller, temporary one, making a marketing space for the bigger and using an animation to explain how to build its complex volumetric moves.] Respondent (Julia Bryan-Wilson sick, so Ronald Rael responded instead): Discussion of architectural monograph: very few that are highly influential. Culture of technology has changed the idea of the book. Vector toward the library: line has moved into the fourth dimension: second, third, and fourth through representation of the work through video. Challenge: rather than think of it as a body of work - question the monograph as "real" - loose fit - history of line - to a real. In thinking about a collection of work - representation of design work. 

Final Discussion

Q. How do you deal with cost? 

Meejin Yoon: Prototype first, because the cost premium often reflects risk. Show contractors videos or simulated process to help minimize this. 

Q. How do you put yourself into a parametric/digital design process? How do you know you've got what you want? 

Mike Silver: Getting more deeply involved in the making of software. Every school should have a software developer. Becomes the producer of tools. Craft shapes the making of the tools.